Letter about University research grant funding

Michelle Donelan MP – Minister of State for Universities

Department for Education

21st May 2020


Dear Michelle,


I am writing in support of calls by Sussex University and others for the Government to do more to invest in the research capacity of HE institutions so as to minimise the damaging impact of the coronavirus crisis. The UK has a global reputation for innovative and ground breaking research and the recent announcement of £100 million in support being brought forward to this academic year, alongside other measures, is hugely welcome. However, Universities UK estimate that to enable universities to continue to lead the way out of this pandemic with the research they do, targeted funding from the Government needs to double from £2bn to £4bn a year.


In particular the loss of international student fees risks drastically undermining the sector’s research capacity. Universities UK report that a loss of between 80 and 100% of the usual intake of international students is widely anticipated as a result of the virus, with most universities agreeing a reduction of at least half seems inevitable. A UCU commissioned study from April predicts a 24% drop in first-year enrolment on average per higher education institution as students defer the start of their studies due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. This includes a 47% drop in EU students and a 47% drop in non-EU international students enrolling. On average universities would lose £20 million in income each, but in universities most reliant on international students the loss would be £42 million each.


The Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank has found that on average every international student pays £5,000 more than it costs a university to teach them. It also found that universities typically spend most of this surplus on propping up research. Losing the ability to do this will be devastating because  most funding bodies only pay around three-quarters of what it costs the university to carry out a research project. Put simply, without a further injection of dedicated funding on top of the £100 million already announced, universities will not be able to cross-subsidise expensive science and technology research – and that will have consequences for whether or not they can conduct research into pandemics in the long term.


The future of our HE sector lies in the balance and I would urge you to adopt an approach that recognises higher education as a public good that should not be subject to commercialisation or marketisation. Doubling the Government’s investment in research in universities would signal that you understand the breadth and depth of the social, economic and cultural benefits associated with a thriving publicly minded and publicly funded HE sector and I urge you to give this matter your full and immediate attention.


I look forward to your response.


Yours sincerely,

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